Stud Of The Night
Think Kobe Bryant wants this championship? After a ho-hum first quarter (six points on 3-of-9 shooting), Bryant was positively electrifying, scoring 12 points in the second quarter and 18 in the third. He finished with 40 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. He diced up the Magic defense with a variety of sharp moves and kept his teammates involved despite launching 34 shots, more than he had attempted in the previous two games combined.
"He had the smell," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "I thought we [went to him] a little bit too often but he said, 'Keep coming back, I'm OK.' So we did."
Dud Of The Night
The list of candidates is long and distinguished. Dwight Howard finished with 12 points on 1-of-6 from the floor, and the reigning Defensive Player of the Year anchored a defense that allowed the Lakers to score 56 points in the paint. Rashard Lewis was held to single digits (eight points) for the first time since early April. And Rafer Alston (six points, one assist, 2-for-9 shooting) never got going.
But the vote here goes to Stan Van Gundy. Playing Jameer Nelson is one thing -- but playing Nelson for 23 minutes in an NBA Finals game, his first game in nearly four months? It's understandable that Van Gundy has a certain comfort level with Nelson, who was playing spectacular basketball before suffering a shoulder injury in February. But love him or hate him, Alston has been the Magic's starting point guard during this improbable run to the Finals. Platooning him now with Nelson will only shake his confidence and hurt the Magic's on-court chemistry. Nelson's play (six points and four assists) proved that he is healthy enough to be on the floor. But Van Gundy may want to re-think how he distributes the minutes at point guard before Game 2.
"I'm not laying it all on them and running from responsibility," Van Gundy said. "I've got to do a better job with my game plan and play calling."
Play Of The Night
Bryant had a half-dozen YouTube-quality moments, but his three-point play over Mickael Pietrus in the third quarter was arguably his finest. With the shot clock winding down, Pietrus appeared to have Bryant contained above the elbow. Suddenly, Bryant bumped Pietrus, shaking him off momentarily before elevating, hanging in the air, absorbing the contact and banking home the 14-footer. The shot increased the Lakers' lead to 14, which eventually ballooned to 24 by the end of the quarter, sealing the L.A. victory.
Nelson said after the game that he was not bothered by the shoulder injury: "I felt good. My rhythm was a little off, but it was good to be back out there." He also dismissed the possibility that he could wind up back in the starting lineup. "I'm not coming back to start," Nelson said. "I'm coming back to relieve Rafer when he needs a break and do what the team needs." ... Lamar Odom's candy-filled diet made headlines in Los Angeles last week. After Game 1, L.A. radio personality Vic the Brick offered the Lakers' forward a bag of Japanese candy. ... Bryant said his two daughters have been calling him Grumpy from the Seven Dwarves because of his crankiness in the days leading up to Game 1. "That's how I have been at home," he said. "A grouch."
The Magic must to go back to the drawing board. Finding more touches for Howard in the post is a priority, as is devising ways to create the kind of space on the perimeter that made them so successful against Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals. They also need to re-examine their defensive schemes. The Lakers were far less triangle- offense-oriented in Game 1, frequently running pick-and-rolls with Bryant that led to several wide-open jump shots.
"That was by design," Bryant said. "We saw something ... so I took it upon myself to use that play, put a couple points on the board, [try] to gear up some momentum."
For L.A., it's all about maintaining the status quo. After the game, Jackson stressed to his players that it didn't matter if they won by "60 or six. It's just one win." If the Lakers can maintain the same kind of intensity they had from the second quarter on, they will be extremely difficult to beat.
"The best thing we can do is forget about it," Bryant said. "This is a resilient Magic team. This is nothing to them."